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Friday, May 1, 2015

How Are States Going to Pay for Those Police Body Cameras?

This just in from Governing.com: "The Police Executive Research Forum survey found most agencies spent between $800 and $1,200 per camera to purchase them, a daunting price tag for departments already strapped for cash.

But it is the ongoing costs that are the real challenge. The New Orleans Police Department plans to purchase 350 body cameras, but is budgeting $1.2 million over five years, mostly for data storage. Other departments, the police forum found, expect to spend $2 million for a few years of data storage.

In Iowa, the Des Moines Police Department is looking for $300,000 just to start a body camera program. Duluth, Minnesota’s initial $5,000 purchase of 84 cameras ballooned to about $78,000 for licensing and data storage. Last year, Duluth’s police budget was $19.1 million, while Des Moines spent more than $59 million on its police force.

Many states are debating the issues that surround police cameras without tackling the funding question, said Richard Williams, a criminal justice policy specialist with the NCSL. In many instances, he said, lawmakers are focused how long departments should have to keep video, and if or when recordings should be made public.

Miller, with the Police Executive Research Forum, said those issues are important, but that for police departments, cost is the overriding concern.

Officers could potentially record millions of videos a year, any number of which could be used as part of a criminal proceeding, a public records request or for another official purpose. The cost of downloading, logging, handling and storing all that video can be staggering.

“Most of the agencies that we worked with say the biggest issue is the backend data storage,” she said. “It can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to store video each year.”

Costs were a stumbling block in Utah this year, where state lawmakers debated but didn’t pass body camera legislation. Meanwhile, some departments around the state are using the technology — and trying to meet the costs associated with it.

In Clearfield, Utah, a city of about 30,000 located 30 miles north of Salt Lake City, the police department has been using body cameras since 2010. But recently, data storage problems came to a head, and for a few weeks, the department was forced to use DVDs to store video because it ran out of computer server space.

“The more you use them, the more storage it takes, and the costs increase,” said Mike Stenquist, an assistant chief. “The public wants more, it also costs more. It creates a lot of problems.”

It’s not likely to get any better either, Stenquist said. Years ago, the department used older model cameras that needed to be recharged frequently and could only record two hours of video at a time, meaning officers had to return to the office frequently to download any recordings.

New models last longer and have greater storage capacity, he said. But now there’s another problem: The newer cameras record high-definition video, which means the video files are much larger, a reality that contributed to the department’s recent data crunch.

“The data just builds up,” Stenquist said. “Now that we have better cameras that record through a whole shift, it’s taking three or four times the data storage.”

Between cost concerns and public access questions, Stenquist said, it’s probably inevitable that state lawmakers will have to step in.

“It’s just become pretty muddy about what’s going to happen in the future,” he said. “There’s a lot of work to be done.”

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